For some years now I have had the habit of reading or listening through the Bible during the year. The reason for this post is that for this year’s journey through the Bible, I have chosen The Geneva Bible as the translation I would use. My beautiful bride had heard me talking about it as a 2013 project and decided to order it for me, but it took some time to arrive. I received an edition of the 1599 Geneva Bible sometime last Spring, and was already engaged in my project for 2013, which was listening through the entire ESV Bible. Therefore I postponed the literary excursion through what is perhaps the first English language ‘study Bible’ until this year. To assist in my little journey, I am using the year-long Bible reading plan provided by The Gideons International, an organization we (Dan & Dee) joined this last year. I can remain in tune with the other Gideons in our local Camp and also include all of the study/marginal notes provided in The Geneva Bible in smaller units.
The information below is excerpted from an online article , ‘History of the Geneva Bible. ’ I recommend the entire article, especially if you are interested in the history of The Bible. Enjoy!
Despite being virtually unknown today, the Geneva Bible is most revolutionary of all English Bibles. It was born out of persecution and takes its name from the initial city of publication. When Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary,” took the throne in 1553, English Bibles were made illegal and heavy persecution broke-out against Protestants and proponents of English Scripture. Hundreds fled England and many of these exiles settled in Geneva, Switzerland, where they produced a new English Bible—the Geneva Bible.
The Geneva Bible was the first English version to be translated entirely from the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Though the text is principally just a revision of William Tyndale’s earlier work of 1534, Tyndale only translated the New Testament and the Old Testament through 2 Chronicles before he was imprisoned. The English refugees living in Geneva completed the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to English for the first time. The work was led by William Whittingham.
When the Geneva translation of the New Testament appeared in 1557 and the entire Bible in 1560, it was innovative in both text and format, and quickly became the household Bible of English speaking people. It was the first English Bible to have modern verse divisions as well as modern chapter divisions. It was the first Bible to use italics to indicate words not in the original language and the first Bible to change the values of ancient coins into English pound sterling equivalents. It was also the first to use plain Roman type, which was more readable than the old Gothic type, and it was in a handy quarto size for easy use. With prologues before each book, extensive marginal notes, and a brief concordance, the Geneva Bible was in fact the first English “study Bible.”
Between its first edition of 1560 and its last edition in 1644, 160 editions, totaling around a half million Bibles, were produced. And for the first time common people could not only understand the words in the Bible, they could actually own one. Its widespread use first solidified the English language among the common people, not the 1611 King James Bible as many assume. Actually, the King James Bible required decades to surpass the popularity of the Geneva and supplant it from the hearts of the English speaking world.
In fact, the Geneva Bible was the principal English Bible initially brought to American soil, making it the Bible that shaped early American life and impacted Colonial culture more than any other.
Born Out of Blood
Mary I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, took the throne in England in 1553 and set the stage for the creation of the Geneva Bible. Sixteen years earlier her father, Henry VIII, had released the first Bible in English following his separation from the Catholic Church at Rome. However, once Mary was in power, she immediately began forcing all of England back under the authority of the Roman Church and suppressing the circulation of the Bible in the common (English) tongue. Specifically, Mary I issued proclamations in August 1553 forbidding public reading of the Bible and in June 1555 prohibiting the works of reformers Tyndale, Rogers, Coverdale, Cranmer, and others. In 1558 a proclamation was issued requiring the delivery of the reformers’ writings under penalty of death. A vicious persecution was instituted against anyone who supported the reformers’ views or attempted to circulate the scripture in English. Overall, nearly three hundred people were burned at the stake under Mary’s reign, and many more were imprisoned, tortured, or otherwise punished. Reformer John Rogers, who produced the Matthew’s Bible, was the first to be burned. Others who followed the same fate included Bishop Thomas Cranmer, who was involved with the second and subsequent editions of the Great Bible, Nicolas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, and John Hooper, who was often referred to as the “Father of Puritanism.”
It is estimated that during Bloody Mary’s reign as many as eight hundred reformers fled England to seek shelter on the Continent. Some settled in Strasburg, some in Zurich, and some in Frankfort. Many settled in Geneva, the “Holy City of the Alps,” where Protestantism was supreme. The city was under the control of the famed scholar, John Calvin, with the assistance of Theodore Beza. By 1556 a sizeable English-speaking congregation had formed in Geneva with Scottish reformer John Knox serving as pastor. William Whittingham, a tremendous scholar who according to tradition married a sister of Calvin’s wife, succeeded Knox as pastor in 1557.
Immediately after the release of Whittingham’s 1557 New Testament, the English exiles entered upon a revision of the whole Bible. Assisted by Beza and possibly Calvin himself, several English exiles were involved in the translating, but it is impossible to say how many. Miles Coverdale, who produced the Coverdale and Great Bibles, resided in Geneva for a time and may have assisted, and a similar claim may be advanced in favor of John Knox. The famed sixteenth-century English historian, John Foxe, was also in refuge in Switzerland during this time. Yet the chief credit belongs to William Whittingham, who was probably assisted by Thomas Sampson, Anthony Gilby, and possibly William Cole, William Kethe, John Baron, John Pullain, and John Bodley.
The Old Testament from Genesis through 2 Chronicles and the New Testament were merely revisions of Tyndale’s previous monumental efforts. The works of Coverdale, Rogers, and Cranmer were also consulted, and the English exiles completed a careful collation of Hebrew and Greek originals. They compared Latin versions, especially Beza’s, and the standard French and German versions as well.
While Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, and the Great Bible were merely revisions of Tyndale’s translations from the original Hebrew and Greek, the Geneva Bible charted new ground. The scholarly English refugees in Geneva completed the translation of the remainder of the Old Testament directly from Hebrew into English for the first time. Tyndale had only translated the Hebrew (Masoretic) text up to 2 Chronicles before he was imprisoned in 1535, and it was not until this handful of scholars assembled in refuge in Geneva that there was sufficient familiarity with Hebrew among reformers to complete the translation of the Old Testament directly from Hebrew. Thus, the English scholars who escaped persecution in their native land and resided in Geneva produced the first English Bible ever completely translated from the original languages.
The work took over two years, and in 1560 the world witnessed a new English Bible, which is now known as the “Geneva Bible.” In a simple prefatory note, the Geneva Bible was dedicated to “Bloody Mary’s” successor, Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Bolyen.